Historical fiction detailing the formation of, and competition between, different Christian sects. 

One of the weaknesses of the popular religious thriller The Da Vinci Code is the book’s introductory list of “facts” that many scholars find dubious. The story may be engaging, but the scholarship on which it sits is shaky. Durrett’s work has a similar flaw; however, with a flat narrative and a cast of two-dimensional characters, Gnostics doesn’t overcome the simplistic research on which it is based to become a compelling tale. The book begins nearly 2,000 years ago in Palestine: Jesus is dead and his followers are bereft. When all seems lost, the risen Christ appears to his lover and dearest disciple, Mary Magdalene, and tells her to found a new church in France based on his secret teachings. Meanwhile, Jesus’ male disciples are to stay behind and begin what will one day become Roman Catholicism, though Mary’s church—made up of members called, by turns, Gnostics, Cathars or Perfecti—will someday eclipse theirs and become the universal world religion. Then fastforward 12 centuries, to a time when Catholic overreach threatens to destroy Cathar spirituality forever through a series of violent purges. Durrett’s plotline—most of which focuses on a trio of 13th-century Cathar women—shows promise but his overt spiritual concerns often overwhelm the story. In the book’s introduction, the author argues that world Catholicism is nearly extinct and that the re-establishment of Cathar Gnosticism is imminent. These claims are unbelievable but, more damaging, they drag down the tale of Mary Magdalene and her spiritual heiresses. Further, the author’s understanding of first-century Christianity is simplistic and sometimes misleading. A world conspiracy against Cathar religion is a fun idea, but lacks historical support. Also, Durrett’s detailed explanation of Cathar spirituality is always distractingly close to the surface. A potentially engaging tale undercut by its basis in specious history and its unsatisfying occupation of a gray area between novel and creed.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-4276-5005-4

Page Count: 220

Publisher: ECKO House

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2010

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.


The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.


A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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